Elizabeth II, the current Queen of England, who at age 94, has held the throne for sixty-nine years – the longest reign of any monarch in history. Despite – or maybe because of – the recent drama within the royal family, it seems as though the majority of British subjects still support the British Monarchy and the royal family. But in an era that increasingly values merit over birth (take Prince Will’s marriage to middle-class Kate and Prince Harry’s marriage to former actress Meghan Markle, a Catholic, divorced American), the very concept of a monarchy seems outdated at best and positively inegalitarian at worst. So, is the British Monarchy a worthwhile institution or an unnecessary relic of times long gone?
Here are three arguments in support of the British Monarchy and three against it.
God Save The Queen!
The Queen unifies the British masses and others across the world.
As an a-political figurehead (even in the heated times of Brexit and especially during the anxiety-ridden pandemic), the Queen, and by extension, the royal family, tend to unite Great Britain around principles that transcend day-to-day politics, highlighting shared history and values, and contributing to societal cohesion. This unifying effect stretches long beyond the UK’s borders to the 2.2 billion subjects of the Commonwealth of Nations, a voluntary union of 54 nations dedicated to shared values like democracy and human rights. Headed by Queen Elizabeth II, the Commonwealth unites countries in history and trade, and provides a friendly platform to hold member states to high civic standards.
The royal family has historically provided assurance in uncertain times.
In times of upheaval, the English have always leaned on the Monarchy as a symbol of security in a changing world. Queen Elizabeth II’s 1952 coronation provides an excellent example. While Great Britain was recovering from the ravages of WWII, a country whose citizens were living on rations held an outsized ceremony to commemorate their new queen. In the Queen’s prosperity, the people of England see their own prosperity, and the coronation a shining symbol of English perseverance. Moreover, there is something profoundly comforting in knowing that if the state’s political institutions go berserk – or get sidelined by the coronavirus – there is a stateswoman or statesman prepared to take the reins. And not just any stateswoman – one whose entire family legacy hinges on her subjects’ prosperity.
The royal family is a boon to the United Kingdom’s economy.
Step aside James Bond, the Windsor family is the UK’s most popular and marketable brand, in good times as well as in bad. Be it weddings or births, the world is constantly watching as the Windsor family expands and even, as of recently, gets smaller. The prestige, popularity (and family drama) of the royal family earns the UK plenty of PR that drives tourism and business. Estimates from the British Tourism Council surmise that the Windsor family, worth an estimated $88 billion, generates over $770 million in tourist spending annually. Additionally, the family’s milestones (such as the weddings of Prince William and Prince Harry and the births of their children spur adjacent industries – injecting the economy with hundreds of millions of extra dollars from Britons eager to participate in the festivities – and the profits from their agricultural holdings are deposited into the public’s coffers.
Magna Carta Her Out of Here!
Monarchy is unfair to monarchs.
Being born a prince or princess is very much an accident of birth. But is it a happy one? According to Princess Diana and the Duchess of Sussex, no. Imagine a life where your every movement was carefully watched and judged, where you were forbidden to have political conversations, refused medical treatment – even when having suicidal thoughts. To put it bluntly, the life of royals is dictated by tradition and expectation; they don’t enjoy the same basic freedoms as their subjects. The UK has long passed the necessity of an absolute ruler. It stands to reason that, if the royals’ role in the governance of their society is largely ceremonial, then English society would be generous to release them of this burden, as Prince Harry and Meghan have done.
The royal family ties England to a dark past that is best left behind.
Sure, the majority of Britons express favor for the Queen. Of course, speaking against the Monarchy is technically an offense that can be punishable by life in prison. Laws like the aforementioned Treason Felony Act reveal the pernicious nature of the British Monarchy’s past, and to an extent, its present. Monarchies have long survived on the bread and blood of their subjects, whom they regularly plundered and sent to wars on their behalf. Add to this the English Crown’s long history of Colonialism – its subjugation and pilfering of nearly a quarter of the planet’s resources – and reveal a wholly inhumane enterprise. Is an institution that thrives upon degradation really an appropriate centerpiece of national pride? This is especially relevant to ask when long-held questionable attitudes about race still persist in certain royals’ mindsets, specifically regarding the skin color of Prince Harry’s son, Archie.
Monarchy is expensive.
Weighed against the cost of security, travel, and yearly pensions (even for extended family!), the royal family’s revenues are not quite as bountiful as they seem. The royal family cost taxpayers in the United Kingdom $86 million in 2018/19 – a 41% increase over the previous year. That’s quite a price tag for figureheads in a country strapped with over $2.5 trillion in debt. Arguably, this money could be put to better use to improve the nation’s ailing (some would even say failing) healthcare system, especially during a global pandemic, or spent on schools.
The Bottom Line: The Monarchy is English society’s most exquisite display of romanticism – at once representing the grandness of the past and the promise of the future. However, it is both expensive to uphold and may be trapping the British in a past they no longer connect with (just ask Prince Harry). Do you think the British Monarchy should be preserved, or, as Queen Elizabeth nears her 95th birthday, is it time for a change?